Building community and momentum: RJC alumna named new CEO of YMCA of Saskatoon

May 10, 2024 | Alumni & Friends Story, Stories

In January, RJC alumna DeeAnn Mercier (Isaak, 2003), was named the new CEO of the YMCA of Saskatoon. Stepping into this role is an extension of DeeAnn’s long history of supporting community development and serving others. Values instilled in her since childhood and nurtured during her time at RJC.

Growing up with both parents working in various roles related to senior’s care, DeeAnn had role models who showed the importance of working to support others around her. “I really saw their example of helping people in the community and helping vulnerable people,” she says. Those values continued to be nurtured when she started at RJC.

Her family had moved to Rosthern, across the soccer field from the school, just before she started grade 10. Though she was a day student, with her house being so close DeeAnn spent a lot of her time on campus – attending night lunch, joining committees and extracurriculars like choir, musical and drama, all activities she didn’t have at her previous smaller, rural school.

Her time at RJC also encouraged DeeAnn to value service, both through lessons in the classroom and through dedicated service times like ALSO. “That was a big deal to have specific weeks where we went and did service opportunities. I think that’s so incredibly important to go and give back in that way,” she says. “Then also to learn those values and see how you can apply them in your own community or your own school.”

She remembers activities like picking weeds at Seager Wheeler farm, serving in seniors homes in BC, and volunteering at the Mustard Seed in Calgary. She would later end up working at the Lighthouse in Saskatoon, serving people experiencing homelessness, and she says having that earlier exposure was important. “I think it was really good to be able to dip your toe in and to go into spaces like that, that maybe normally kids from small towns wouldn’t see large, homeless shelter organizations,” she says.

After graduating from RJC, DeeAnn studied English at the University of Saskatchewan before heading to Trinity Western University in BC for a degree in communications. When she and her husband, Jules Mercier, moved back to Saskatoon DeeAnn got a job at the Lighthouse, serving people experiencing homelessness. It was an exciting time to be at the organization that was making a big impact but had a small staff. “I was able to do a lot of different things and have a lot of different responsibilities, and really see that impact of services that helped the vulnerable people in our community,” she says.

After working five years at the Lighthouse, DeeAnn became the executive director of the Broadway Business Improvement District planning events, marketing, contributing to urban design and advocacy work to support the local businesses and people in the community. She worked there for seven years before getting her new role as CEO with the YMCA.

In all these positions building and deepening relationships with others has been an important part of her work – it has helped her learn and ensured the organizations are serving the community well. “The people you build relationships with are the people who are going to inform you as to what the community needs and where the gaps are, where the opportunities are,” she says. And fostering relationships with people who are passionate about the issues she’s working on also helps build momentum in the community. “The more people you can get on board with your vision, and the more you can understand other people’s vision, that’s when collective action and momentum can really happen in our community and big systemic change can happen,” she says.

The value of building deep relationships is also something DeeAnn saw in action at RJC. Many of her close relationships now are friends she met at RJC. And even many classmates who haven’t stayed around Saskatoon prioritized coming back to RJC for reunions to meet up again. The deeper relationships that students at RJC develop with teachers was also an important part of her time at the school she says, and those relationships have influenced the values of community and service that have been important for her throughout her career. “I hope that in some ways that [those teachers are] proud of me in the work that I’ve done,” she says. “Because it was their values and their guidance and their being role models that helped me make a lot of my life decisions.”

Photo: DeeAnn Mercier (Isaak, 2003)